Saturday, May 21, 2011

You Must Check Out the Yellow Sofa Cafe, Northampton, MA

I'm an unabashed fan and booster of the Northampton's mighty Yellow Sofa Cafe and its live music. The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville has nothing on this East Coast mecca. Every Thursday evening from 7 to 10:30 there is for everyone in the house, the continuous possibility of witnessing sublime and miraculous moments, astonishing to everyone in the room. I haven't seen anything like it since the Cat and the Cream Coffeehouse at Oberlin College in the late 70s, of which much has been written (well--in my journals from the time, probably). Northampton owes a debt of gratitude to Gabriel Moushabeck and family for making this live music venue possible in the heart of downtown Paradise City. Everyone must go there and spend money. If you are anywhere near Northampton, do it this week.  These aren't the 'droids you're looking for. . .divert generous amounts of your extra hard-earned Money. . . to Yellow Sofa Cafe. . .that is all.

I've only seen Star Wars twice, in fact, but I always liked that scene. . .

Here's a peek at some of the open mic proceedings from this week. I love that I got to play this favorite song of mine. To hear it, and the story behind it, click on the picture.

For full screen version, go to:

What an evening (though a classically typical one by Sofa standards). It was innagurated by two 2nd graders from Crocker Farm Elementary School who sang Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" followed by the Beatles' "We Can Work it Out" with poise and charm, not to mention vocal and performing talent, that led one observer to say, "That was amazingly good, not just good for them being 2nd graders. I mean actually, amazingly good." Bluesman Robert Wilfong (Fongster100 on YouTube) played a characteristically scorching version of "Death Don't Have No Mercy." Artistic wildman Azwan played a mashup of David Bowie songs on acoustic guitar, and as always, some of the area's best singer-songwriters including Scott Cadwallader, Laura Titrud and Chris Griffin played original new material better than nearly everything currently slucing through the polluted main river basins and tributaries of American radio.

The evening ended, as has become customary lately, with an everyone-in version of a Bob Dylan song. This time it was, "Million Miles" from the 1997 album "Time Out of Mind" with everyone left in the joint with an instrument getting 12 bars of blues in the batting cage--and some fine players hit 'em out of the park to send everyone home happy.

  For full screen version click on the link below:

We are in the golden era of the Yellow Sofa Cafe, I tell you. Long may it run, but if I were you, I'd plan to be there Thursday at 6:30 to sign up for one of the 18 slots, 'cause the only time guaranteed is right now, now, now, daddy-oh.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Love and Acceptance

Went to a big city. Got kinda weirded out by unfiltered exposure to public space in this era. Came home and slept in my own bed waking up with the words, "Come back to yourself, come back to yourself." Went into town. A song seed started growing, a tune that kept turning on the phrase "Love and Acceptance". It started to take over, but I wasn't home and didn't want to lose the song. Tried to find a pay phone. There aren't any damn payphones any more, and the last ones are winking out in public spaces, even those that were there in the summer. Thought about trying to find a person with a cell phone, but that would have meant looking crazy for borrowing it to sing a song with gibberish lyrics into along with the repeated phrase "Love and Acceptance". Resolved to keep the song alive manually by repeating it, adding to it until I could get home--like I was doing CPR until I could get it to the hospital. Got home and recorded the song idea, then finished the words, then started recording it. It sounded like this.

Then I made a "Wall of Sound" radio version by adding bass, backing vocals, guitar, a horn section, and more. It sounds like this.

I feel better now. It rocks, and it means something that means something to me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Aimee Mann Experiment

I mean to post this with humility, if such a thing is not a contradiction. You've seen those people who hang out in museums with painting easels trying to copy masterworks. It's kind of a cool thing to do. But the people doing that probably don't show those paintings to people and say, "Look at this cool thing I made!" For one thing, most of them probably hope to spend the rest of their time in this life maybe one day good enough to scrub the brushes of one of those Dutch guys. For another, they realize that they haven't actually broken an artistic sweat. It's the original artist that did all the heavy lifting. It's a little like being born rich and thinking you did something to deserve that.

There's one more incentive I have to be more apologetic about this if I don't want to look too dopey. Aimee Mann, in addition to being a sublime songwriter, is one of the greatest vocalists ever recorded. I'm the greatest singer in my shower only on a good day. (That's a day when my thunder-traumatized dog doesn't climb into the shower with me during a rainstorm. It occurs to me only just now that I probably should stop taking showers during electrical storms.)

On Aimee's soundtrack album to Paul Thomas Anderson's movie "Magnolia" there is an instrumental version of her great song "Nothing is Good Enough," which would later appear on her album, "Bachelor No. 2." Paul Thomas Anderson is to me, my favorite movie director, who's art I regard with reverence  even though, and maybe even, in part, because, his father, played a guy named Ghoulardi and wore a fright wig when showing horror movies on Channel 8 when I was growing up in Cleveland.

To make this video, all I did was import the stand-alone instrumental track from iTunes to a basic track in Garageband, then I started taking over the song like a squater in a luxury appartment, layering on vocals, a reverb/pop lead vocal, a copy of that, some gospel voice oooh, ahhh harmonies, even a megaphone nasal line or two, just to make it interesting. I raised and lowered the volume of these' tracks depending on what was supposed to be building up, or whether the main vocal was supposed to be delivering the lyric cleanly at the beginning of the verse. I'm really a primitive as far as mixing and mastering goes. I throw in too much, and it gets muddy and I still pile on more--but that's small potatoes compared to the damage I do by discarding Aimee's vocal tracks with her unmatched tonal purity and her Virginia regional accent that sounds exactly like this girl I knew in college. To top it off, I replace it with my nasal, reedy, limited-ranged, tenor instrument. This is where the humility comes in, or should.

To make the visuals, I just went outside and lip synched the song while listening to the recording in headphones while holding the camera an arm's length from my face. If you think it was easy to synchronize the recording you're crazy--or rather it's me that's crazy. It took more than 14 ten minute tries of nudging the soundtrack in 10th of a second increments around the 3 second mark. It probably still looks like a dubbed Japanese Godzilla movie, but that's the best I plan to do for now.

The "Magnolia" soundtrack album, by the way, also contained the song "Save Me" that was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999, losing out to  "You'll Be in My Heart" from the Disney movie "Tarzan", which I'm sure is a super swell song too.  Was "Save Me" good enough to deserve an Academy Award? If it isn't, then Nothing is Good Enough, I'd say.

Having Awesome People to Play With

I record under the name Mr. Silverstone and the Silvertone Horns. The origin of this name is that as an elementary school teacher, Mr. Silverstone is the name I am called 100 times an hour sometimes. If I or  someone else reveals my actual first name, my 2nd graders act like they've stumbled onto some kind of clandestine insider information. The movie actor Tony Curtis was actually born with the name Bernard Schwartz, only, I guess this was some kind of big secret in plain sight with a similar flavor to it.

In addition to my Turn it Up Records buy 10 get the 11th free card, I carry an ASCAP membership card, mainly for the thrill of showing them that it says Mr. Silverstone Music--which feels like clandestine insider information to me, that I actually am probably one of the few 2nd grade teachers who carries the same card as Dr. Dre and Lady Gaga.

As for the Silvertone Horns, they were first imaginary beings created by computer synthisized trumpets and saxophones on my home recordings, but then I realized that these sounds were standing in for the eventual real life horn players who would be in my band. Over time, playing at the open mic at the Yellow Sofa, I've met talented and brilliant musicians like bassist Rob Douglas, gutarists David Waldfogel guitarist Christopher Griffin, and percussionist Bob Adelson, and when we play my songs the joke is that we are the Silvertone Horns, even though no actual member of the band yet plays a wind instrument except in cyberspace. But my motto for the band has always been: pretend it's real until it is. It's worked brilliantly so far.

Here is a video of what real life versions of the electronically produced studio versions of two of the new songs sound like. As cool as it is to create string sessions and percussion ensembles on these tracks, it is way gooder to experiment in real time, face to face, and with surprises, improvisations, unexpected gifts, and weird problems, like buzzing amplifiers. It makes me so happy to play with genius people like Rob and Jesse, Bob and David, and Xxxxx and Yyyyy, and Zzzzz,  horn players that I'm confident will one day appear the same way I used to imagine my future son and me walking down some street together, me holding his hand, more than 10 years before there was a hand to hold. When it did happen, it was a lot like I imagined. But right now, playing music with real life awesome people is more surprising and fun than anything I could have imagined.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Brand NEW POWER POP!! from Mr. Silvertsone and The Silvertone Horns

Fresh from the studio, this brand new smash single, "Strategies of Love" is available for a free listen at:



We want our song examined...You need your ears excited ...We'd like you to join the partiy ...And you are all invited .

Happy May Day everyone, everywhere!


Michael Silverstone and the The Silverstone Horns